I don't want to spend a lot of time kicking and screaming over Dan Kois' May 1 New York Times Magazine "Riff" entitled "Reaching for Culture That Remains Stubbornly Above My Grasp," as it's just another representation, complete with references to "cultural vegetables," of the Cheerful Fake Middlebrow Philistinism That Refuses To Die, and nothing I can say will ever change said refusal. Even though the piece does have some novelty value: it piles up its unexamined cultural assumptions in such a relaxed way that the net effect is like Stephen Metcalf on Xanax, and it also throws in a "Hey, there's a TELEVISION SHOW I don't 'get' either" confession (a failed attempt to make the weirdly inverted snobbery go down easier), and some love-me-love-my-kids bullshit to boot. What the fug ever. What does give me pause is: Why is it that it seems lately whenever a self-styled film critic wants to evoke boredom, he or she reaches for Tarkovsky's Solaris? Were a bunch of these yoyos traumatized by that Felicity episode when they were in their teens? Cause honestly there's some stuff in Stalker that could be considered even more "boring" than anything in Solaris. And hey, if you want honest-to-goodness, actual bonafide art film doldrums, there are a few Angelopolous movies to which I can steer you. So why Solaris, which I recently showed to My Lovely Wife, hetetofore a Tarkovsky virgin (I know, I know; she'd never seen a Tarkovsky movie and I actually married her, what kind of self-respecting film snob am I anyway?), and which went down quite well with her; in fact she found it as moving and as disturbing as I'd imagine Tarkovsky wanted it to be. Now it so happens that My Lovely Wife, while incredibly brilliant (I can just hear her saying "Pshaw!" to that, but don't listen to her, she really is) would be the first to allow that her taste skews somewhat more to the mainstream than my own. And I realize that some might turn an accusing finger at me and say I'm indulging in love-me-love-my-wife bullshit (our union has yet to be blest with issue, so at least be glad you'll be spared the kid stuff for the foreseeable future), but hell, I'm making a point with what I have at hand, the point being that Solaris is only really difficult and inaccessible if you actually want it to be.
And the reason guys like Kois like to pick on it is the same reason Kois' master and model Metcalf was compelled to pick on The Searchers a few years ago: because it's revered, and because the New Mandarins like nothing better than to give what they consider a good kick in the shins to the revered and—mostly—to the people doing the revering. My wife and tens of thousands of other may have thoroughly and genuinely enjoyed and been moved by Solaris, but they're not gonna get the chance to write two pages in the Times magazine about it; now, that space is this week reserved for Dan Kois and his resentment. We have truly entered the age Lester Bangs predicted in 1977, an age when "along with our nurtured indifference to each other will be an even more contemptuous indifference to each others' objects of reverence [...] whoever [...] seemed to speak for your own private, entirely circumscribed situation's many pains and few ecstasies." How nice to be reminded of this on a beautiful Sunday morning. Thanks, Dan, and thanks, The New York Times Magazine!